The Corner

Health Care

The CBO’s Colossal Health-Care Error

Protesters demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s plans to end Obamacare in Washington, D.C., March 23, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

When Republicans attempted to repeal and replace Obamacare during 2017, the main attack on them was that their plans would “throw millions of people off the insurance rolls.” The Congressional Budget Office estimated that one of the bills would cause 23 million fewer people to have insurance.

I spent a lot of time on NRO (here, for example) pushing against this endlessly repeated claim. Much of the estimate reflected the CBO’s belief that 14 million people would not buy health insurance if the federal government stopped fining people for going without it. So saying the plan would “throw” or “kick” people off insurance was a misleading way of referring to the CBO estimate. The CBO was also, I argued (along with many other conservatives), almost certainly attributing too much power to the fines.

Philip Klein has an update at the Washington Examiner: Now that the fines are gone, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate that the effect of dropping them was a reduction of 2.5 million people on the rolls for 2019, with a smaller effect going forward. One important driver of the smaller estimate: CBO assumed that millions of people would go without free coverage from Medicaid if the fines weren’t in place; CMS, more reasonably, does not make that assumption. The endlessly repeated CBO estimate seems to have been way off, and the error did a lot to keep Obamacare in place.

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Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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